Toby: The Secret Mine wears its influences on its sleeve. So much so, that you’d be forgiven for thinking Toby only wears official LIMBO T-shirts when he’s trudging around dimly lit mine-shafts. In fact, both of my housemates though I was playing LIMBO at first glance, so glaring are the similarities between Lukas Navratil’s puzzle-platformer and Playdead’s indie darling. But mine a little deeper (heh) and it soon becomes apparent that Toby is a fairly different game to LIMBO, at least aside from their shared love for all things dark and buzzsaw-y.
Toby’s goal is familiarly vague – he’s just sort of there, attempting to save twenty or so of his large-headed friends from villains with even larger heads. These captives are secured inside cages, some of which are easy to find, while others are hidden away in the nooks and crannies of “The Secret Mine”. By dodging traps, solving puzzles, and navigating platforming sections, Toby the thwarts each kidnapping attempt with relative ease. Therein lies the fundamental difference between Toby and LIMBO.
While there are a few brainteasers on offer, most of the puzzles Toby encounters are generally simple to solve. Perhaps its because they feel so derivative, but the solution to each problem is never more than a few half-hearted attempts away. As a result, Toby is a much faster paced game than LIMBO – there are more twitch-based platforming sections that require sharp reflexes and careful timing, and the most difficult puzzle will probably only hold you back for five minutes or so.
Toby is caught between two styles of play. It purports to be a LIMBO-esque puzzle game, but it regularly hurtles along at the pace of, say, Rayman Origins. Toby himself moves a little faster than LIMBO’s protagonist (Limboy?), but not quite fast enough for some of the full blown agility tests that crop up later in the game. Fortunately, he doesn’t ragdoll around as much either, and his ability to reliably ‘use’ and ‘grab’ environmental objects makes pulling levers and pushing crates a damn sight easier than it was back in 2010.
Toby would probably be better off with fewer puzzles, and more reflex testing mine-cart rides. It’s in these brief but hair-raising moments that The Secret Mine stands out on its own – trying to balance the contrasting disciplines of lateral thinking and twitch-dodging makes for a real challenge, and is almost always backed up by some great level design.
There’s a great deal of snooping around for Toby to do, as secret areas are cleverly tucked away in plain sight, and The Secret Mine is admirable in the way it tests trial and error without punishing the player for not having 20/20 foresight. For instance, there are plenty of unpredictable chunks of terrain just waiting to cave in, or unleash a nasty spike-trap directly into Toby’s pointy head, but these hazards never feels unjust, rather they’re designed to ensure that you learn the environment, and don’t repeat your mistakes.
Toby is a competently designed game, even if it doesn’t exactly set your imagination on fire. The same can be said for its grim, clear-cut art style, which is frequently spiced up with splashes of bright blue, orange and yellow, and its ambient soundtrack, which serves as satisfyingly eerie background noise.
Ultimately, Toby feels like a fitting homage to LIMBO, one that toys around with a few new ideas, but quickly settles into a comfortable groove. Pretty much all of its finest elements are lifted from ‘The L Word’ (not that L Word), but that’s not necessarily a criticism. The adage goes: if you’re going to steal, you might as well steal from the best, something Lukas Navratil appears to be a deft hand at.